Travel Feature: New York State of Mind by Ellen Frazer-Jameson
Romance is always in the air at the top of The Empire State Building. Claimed to be one of the most popular places in the world to propose, only on Valentine’s Day are couples allowed to get married at the 86th floor observation tower. Lucky couples need to be winners not only in love abut also by being selected in an annual Valentine’s Day wedding contest. Hundreds of couples have officially married on the special day of romance over the years and in 2017, 13 couples will make their vows 443.2 meters up in the sky. As they promise to love one another and spend their lives together, weather protected in a glass enclosed area or on the 360 degree outdoor open air terrace, they may glimpse the future as they gaze at a picture postcard view stretching 80 miles over five states.
Named as “America’s Favourite Building’ in a poll conducted by the American Institute of Architects, the 102nd floor observation tower with 1,860 steps from the street level lobby to the top of the lightning rod antenna, overlooks the world famous New York skyline and is a place of magic and the enduring image many of its four million visitors a year take home with them. Only dignitaries, VIPS and visiting celebrities are ever invited up to the exclusive 103rd floor deck.
The iconic New York Art Deco landmark which opened in 1931 on the site of the original Waldorf Astoria Hotel never fails to dazzle and as night falls its customized LED system produces a spectacular and constantly changing light show from a palette of over 16 million colours in limitless combinations shining out with dynamic effects in ripples, cross fades, sparkles, chasers, sweeps, strobes and bursts.
Little wonder that all that energy produces an unforgettable spark to light up couples as they create their forever moment.
As lips touch, lovers literally do see sparks fly; a romantic phenomena brought about by the heightened degree of static at the 102nd floor observation platform.
You may have been there before, bought the statue, the King Kong cuddly toy and the T-shirt but the Empire State Experience never fails to impress. Proud to be the ‘Heart of New York City’, the Empire State knows how to beam out, ‘I Love New York.’
Love may keep you warm at the top of the Empire State but taking a boat ride out to the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island Immigration Museum from Battery Park demands courage in winter months. A City Pass offering entrance to a choice of six out of nine topline attractions (valid for nine days) saves almost $80 per person on individual admission prices. Attractions on offer include the 9/11 Memorial Museum, the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum and the Guggenheim.
Statue Sightseeing Cruises offer a unique perspective on NYC’s best landmarks from the Harbor.
Formerly a lighthouse, Liberty Enlightening the World, radiates a 24 mile view out over the waters from her home on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. Gifted by the people of France in 1886, the Lady, as she is known to New Yorkers, celebrated her 130th birthday last year. From the ground base to the top of her crown with its seven windows honoring the seven oceans and seven continents, Liberty stands 93 meters tall and weighs 204 metric tonnes. The neoclassical statue, a National Monument survives 600 lightning bolts every year.
A museum in the base offers visitors a glimpse of history through photographs, prints and videos and a bronze plague celebrates the poem ‘A New Colossus’ by Emma Lazarus written in 1883 to raise funds for the completion of the sculpture.
Nation defining lines from that poem are symbolic of America’s heritage,
‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free.’
The enduring Liberty symbol offers hope, freedom and the dream of a better life. Most visitors are admitted only as far as the pedestal of the statue and an elevator is available but tickets to visit the crown are generally sold out up to three months in advance.
Now most new arrivals in NY City come by air though some do have the luxury of sailing in on ocean going liners. Immigrants still chase the American dream as they join family and friends in Little Italy or Chinatown.
Outside of Asia, Downtown Manhattan’s Chinatown has the largest population of Chinese inhabitants, some 100,000 at last count. There are two other notable Chinatowns in the New York boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.
Little Italy is home to families who have lived and worked in the community for over 100 years. Movies The Godfather, Mean Streets and Big Daddy were all filmed in Manhattan’s Little Italy.
Tasty nibbles of pasta and pastries provide a taste of Italian Cuisine and one deli proudly declares it has one item of food from every single region in Italy.
These two very different ethnic enclaves make up stops on a fascinating Ahoy New York Food Tasting & Cultural Walking Tour exploring the history, culture and eating habits of these adjoining neighbourhoods in NYC.
Our guide, Michael Sean McGuinness, a Scottish/Irish American actor enjoys sharing gruesome anecdotes including the fact that one street in Chinatown, the Bloody Angle, was infamous for having the most murders occur in one spot in in all of United States. Michael adds his own gory claim to fame by admitting that in his latest acting role, he plays a child murderer in the hugely popular NBC television series, The Blacklist.
Visiting Chinatown during the time of Chinese New Year means sharing the already crowded streets with drum bands, firecracker throwing youths and three headed golden dragons chasing away evil spirits and bringing good fortune to businesses and visitors.
We feasted on dim sum and steamed dumplings washed down with flower filled jasmine tea but NO fortune cookies. They are not native to China, we nibbled instead on hard baked almond cookies.
As is the often the way, one sweet treat leads to another and the aptly named Sugar Factory restaurant in the Meatpacking District in Downtown Manhattan called our name. A wonderland of gigantic fondue fountains, ice-creams mountains and fish bowl sized drinks served with sparklers and fizz bombs and their signature pop culture phenomena, sparkling lollipops endorsed by celebrities including The Kardashians. The elegant chandeliered restaurant almost demands over indulgence with a wicked menu of Insane Sweets and a World Famous King Kong Sugar Factory Sundae.
Broadway, off Broadway and even off-off Broadway shows are often highlights of a NYC trip. One truly inspirational hidden gem of NYC theater offers an experience that is undeniably unique. Sleep No More is an immersive performance event courtesy of the British Punch Drunk company. As interactive adventures go, this one is sensational. The stage is set in a 1930s pleasure palace called the McKittrick Hotel. Three abandoned warehouses in Down Town Manhattan have been designed like a movie set on five floors with 100 minimally illuminated, furniture cluttered rooms and never ending corridors. Actors flash past chased by audience members who wear carnival style masks and have been forbidden to speak for the full two and a half hours of performance. Barely acknowledging its Shakespearean roots in the Tragedy of Macbeth, Sleep no More is thrilling, mind bending and deliciously strange.
Sleep No More is a perfect way end to a late night visit to the City that Never Sleeps.